Baltimore City

Bill would broaden definition of 'lobbyist'

Any person paid to influence the votes of Baltimore's elected officials — regardless of the amount they receive — would be required to register as a lobbyist under a measure proposed Monday by Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Lobbyists would be barred from claiming they could "control or obtain" the vote of an elected official under the proposal.

"The public deserves to know how much money was spent and who was involved in a legislative fight," said Young, adding that the measure would help dispel a sense that City Hall has been "plagued by scandal."

Current law requires only those paid more than $2,500 to register with the city ethics board. Young and other officials, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, have been proposing changes to the city's ethics laws since former Mayor Sheila Dixon resigned earlier this year following a corruption probe that centered on her relationship with a developer doing business with the city.

Young's measure would significantly broaden the city's definition of a "lobbyist" and require those who devote more than a fifth of their time in a six-month period lobbying to register with the city's ethics board, even if they are not paid for their activities.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said it was unlikely that community leaders would be forced to register unless they spent an "exorbitant" amount of time lobbying officials.

Anyone who receives any compensation for lobbying would be also be compelled to register under the proposal.

The proposal would also require lobbyists to disclose how much they spend on publications and advertisements, as well as their costs to hire consultants to conduct research, attend meeting or draft legislation and other documents for elected officials.

Lobbyists would be prohibited from creating a "fictitious impression" of public opinion and sending correspondence under false names or using the names of residents without their knowledge. The measure would also increase the registration fee for lobbyists from $20 to $100.

The city imposes a $1,000 civil penalty for lobbying law violations.

Eight of the 15 council members initially signed onto Young's bill at Monday's meeting, but Councilwomen Rochelle "Rikki" Spector and Sharon Green Middleton later withdrew their support. Spector did not return a call seeking comment Monday evening.

Middleton said she was distracted and mistakenly raised her hand in support of the bill.

She said the bill was "too vague" and she wanted to better understand what prompted Young to introduce the measure.

"I want to know the reason why the bill came about," she said. "We're talking about people who are going to be affected by this."

Councilman William H. Cole IV, who did not back the bill, said that he had first seen the measure Monday afternoon and needed more time to compare it to state ethics laws.

He questioned how the provisions would be enforced and whether increasing the registration fee would have a "chilling effect" on grass-roots and community groups.

"I think I understand where the president is heading with it," Cole said. "It's not that I disagree, it's that I don't know if that's the way to go about it."

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said that the administration is awaiting the city law department's analysis of the bill.

City Solicitor George Nilson said that the law department has not begun to review the measure.

The council's judiciary and legislative investigations committee is slated to hold a hearing on the proposal in the coming weeks.